Video games are misunderstood. Often thought of as something children occupy their time with before they eventually grow up and discover the wonders of alcohol and socialising with ‘normal people’ (at least this was my personal journey) I’ve decided to try and redress the balance and explain not only how video games have started to surpass film in awareness but also in recognition to rise as a behemoth of the entertainment industry that carries inside it secretly unique experiences unobtainable in other mediums.
Ask any average person on the street to name a video game character they’ve heard of and I would hazard a guess most would say either Sonic The Hedgehog or Mario. Nothing surprising about this. Not only has Nintendo slapped the plump plumber on every conceivable game, lunchbox and toy in the past two decades but joining Sonic, has even had multiple cartoon series based on their adventures. Any parent with children would be well versed in trawling the local Toys ‘R’ Us and avoiding anything Nintendo related. The bright colours, the plush toys, the candy. Despite all of this, when teacher’s used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I never said, ‘Plumber’. Astronaut, Fireman or Ninja tended to have higher priority in my lofty life ambitions. Yes, that’s right, all could be potential members in a Village People comeback tour.
Nintendo has always been about the family market, and with the latest Wii U release further cementing itself as the ‘go to brand’ for family friendly gameplay, gaming is actually bringing people together more than it ever has. It’s become a truly social experience where people who have little to no knowledge about gaming or complicated controllers can get involved simply by moving their arms and a small wand like device. Whilst not being viewed as ‘art’ in the strictest sense of the word (even I can’t claim squashing an evil mushroom is high brow) it allows people to experience things they traditionally never would have due to misunderstanding, cautiousness or simply fear of being bad with new technology. If art is about personal experience, then gaming can be considered the peak of both social and personal entertainment.
Ultimately, the reason games can be treated as an equal, or even a superior medium to films or books, is the level of interactivity. Some books draw you in allowing you to imagine a character, period or event – a game picks you up, puts you in the world and asks YOU to experience it firsthand. Even with 3D, surround sound and IMAX creations, films still can’t compete with video games in the true level of absorption or immersion you experience.
If anything be it film, book or video game manages to evoke true human emotion as result then that is a success in my book. Sometimes zombies must be killed, it’s a fact, but for those looking for slightly more refined experiences let me point out two hidden gems. Catherine and Nier. Both could be described as ‘niche’ games because they either didn’t have the budget or the marketing behind them for promotion. The reason I choose these specifically is partly because many reading this wouldn’t have heard of them, but also because the experiences both deliver are diverse and emotionally extremely engaging unlike anything I am yet to find in comparison (real life withstanding).
Catherine is so unique in not only it’s concept but the whole aura of the game is both decidedly off-the-wall Japanese yet instantly grounding to anyone in the 27-35 demographic. It’s both a puzzle, adventure, dating sim elements, horror evoking a whole host of emotions from surprise and happiness to shock and awe. Revolving around a 32 year old male unsure of how the rest of his life will pan out he finds himself struggling to come to terms with the developments between his long term girlfriend Katherine and the new girl he wakes up to one night after a drinking session called Catherine. Wording careful text messages to both, speaking with your friends in the bar, and dealing with the recurring nightmares and puzzles within, all amounts to a game that will have you transfixed on Victor’s world but also on your own and how much you can relate to the problems you both face. It’s genuinely like looking in a mirror at times, and that’s what makes it such a clever game.
Nier is a similar in that it’s a pastiche of many genres, some completely jarringly different and unexpected from what the game appears to be on the surface. It is however unusual in that the main protagonist (at least for the European version) is a man in his 40s+ which is rare in an industry always including wide-eyed youthful characters to appeal to as big a market as possible. Set in a fantastical and beautiful world, but without the traditional goblins and warlocks archetypes, you’re thrust into a journey centred around trying to save your daughter from dying. She has been inflicted by ‘The Black Scrawl’ and you have an unstoppable urge (as any father would have) to save her at any cost. For all intents and purposes YOU are her father. It creates an immediate purpose driving all of your actions and understanding why this has happened to his family. The music is hauntingly beautiful and I would genuinely pay good money to hear this repeated by a full orchestra – honestly it really is that powerful and the characters you meet are so full of personality that by the end you feel exhausted and emotionally drained. In a good way. The emotional power this game packs is staggering and incomparable to any book I’ve read or film I’ve seen. The action has immediacy, the voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard but I fear it was overlooked by many.
We’ve got clans of people winning hundreds of thousands of dollars through Call of Duty tournaments, London’s first e-sports bar opening soon focussing on, that’s right, virtual sporting games and tournaments and Candy Crush Saga taking over the mobile gaming universe single handed – gaming is very alive and here to stay. No extra lives needed.